Another week, another childish gaming controversy so silly it would have been taken as satire ten years ago. Right on the heels of Blizzard changing a female character’s victory pose in Overwatch from a classic over-the-shoulder gun pose that tends to show one’s backside as a matter of course to a reproduction of a classic pin-up pose in profile (which also has booty, go figure) as a response to complaints about sexualization and the usual over-the-top reactions to those complaints came the Baldur’s Gate expansion, Siege of Dragonspear, which traumatized some gamers with an extremely brief optional exchange in which a non-player character mentions being transgender.
I know, right? A transgender person in popular media in 2016? Simply terrifying. The real world suddenly seems so big and scary now that a video game world filled with monsters and bizarre non-humanoid sentient races also has stuff from real life. I, for one, am simply mortified. Oh, wait. No. I actually can’t imagine a single thing in the world that would bother me less. Why is it people care again?
Oh, right. The infamous “SJW shit” being shoehorned in. And written by an honest-to-goodness female, no less. NOW I’m pissed! Who are these female creatures to create and contribute to MY video games? Do they not realize how hard it is for me to get out my bed to play the game they worked to make and have to see people representative of the the world I live in who aren’t me? Some people just have no empathy.
In all seriousness, though, the primary complaint among the sayers of nay is an objection to the writer, Amber Scott, daring to put her own thoughts, feelings, and political leanings into her art. Or as they so clichely put it, “keep your politics out of my games”, as though the thought of politics in entertainment is some new thing just now gaining traction among radical thinkers.
Well, that’s a load of bullshit. I probably don’t have to point out that any statement that begins with “I have nothing against [race/gender/sexual preference/etc.] but….” is an inevitable cringe factory and has no purpose being in anything claiming to be an objective review, but just in case, humor me while I put this ridiculousness in a shallow grave, relieve myself upon it, and be done with it. You know, just in case you aren’t aware of how ridiculous this idea is.
Let’s just assume that the very existence of an individual of any given minority class in a work of fiction even qualifies as a political statement. Even if that extremely flimsy assumption were universally accepted truth (and if we’re accepting that then we’re also accepting the pseudo-feminist assertions that Donkey Kong is a celebration of patriarchal oppression since all things are now apparently political statements), it’s entirely beside the point. The harsh, inescapable truth is that personal politics always have and always will be an integral ingredient of any and every form of art. If you can’t divorce from your own biases enough to get over that fact, then you are divorcing yourself from a genuine appreciation of the finer things in entertainment. This is as true of Gamergaters as it is of Anita Sarkeesian.
A Christmas Carol? Anti-capitalist tripe. Portal? A post-feminist parable. Freebird? Faux-sentimental ode to male non-commitment. Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Vegetarian propaganda. Bioshock? Totally jealous of Ayn Rand. Call of Cthulhu? Born of xenophobia. X-Men? Minority oppression much? Layla? Muh sanctity of marriage. Popular art and fiction of every type are fueled by human thoughts, feelings, and values. In other words: politics.
Not a lot of great works ever come into being without their creators putting their own heart and soul into them. Bob Dylan? George Orwell? Stanley Kubrick? Alan Moore? Joss Whedon? Johnny Cash? Would we know any of these people’s names if they didn’t create the things they wanted to see created from their own point of view, off-kilter political values and all?
I believe that some day, gaming developers will earn their place in popular culture among the legends of cinema, literature, television, and music, but only if we let them. It’s time for gamers of all stripes to recognize that whether or not you agree with the thoughts being expressed has no relevance to the value of the work itself. These expressions themselves are a vital part of what separates true art from the chaotic scribblings of toddlers.
So don’t go telling people with a straight face that artists shouldn’t be able to put the things they want to see into their creations. It’s a bad look for an adult. And gods help you if you can say something like that out of one side of your mouth while the other side claims to be anti-censorship. Point is: if an artist can put a shot of a girl’s ass into a video game, the same rights are afforded to a writer who wants to create a transgender character. You can’t have freedom for what you like AND freedom from what everybody else likes at the same time. It’s a two-way street.
When Ms. Scott was asked about her reasoning for putting a transgender character in the game, her response included the following statement: “I consciously add as much diversity as I can to my writing and I don’t care if people think that’s “forced” or fake. I find choosing to write from a straight default just as artificial. I’m happy to be an SJW and I hope to write many Social Justice Games in the future that reach as many different types of people as possible. Everyone should get a chance to see themselves reflected in pop culture.”
As hard as it is to take anybody who uses the term “Social Justice” unironically (and as a proper noun, no less) completely seriously, you can at least admire the honesty there. If you’re going to create or contribute, do it unapologetically and openly or don’t do it at all. Honesty equals integrity.
On the other hand, if you’re saying you don’t have anything against LGBT people, but you express offense when a single one shows up in a video game you are playing, then there’s not a person alive who isn’t going to know you’re full of shit. Ditto if you claim to respect women and yet the only people in the gaming industry you feel the need to criticize this excessively happen to all be women in spite of the fact that they make up less than a quarter of the developer workforce.
So sorry, guys: no safe space for you. Reality is a thing and you can’t keep it out forever. Video games are increasing in both sophistication and diversity and no amount of poorly thought out Steam and Metacritic “reviews” that are nothing but semi-coherent off-topic rants barely fit for a message board are going to hold back that tide. Maybe if you speak honestly instead of making up fictional reasons why you’re offended, they’ll put trigger warnings in so your delicate sensibilities can remain unoffended. Probably not, though.
If we want games to continue to progress the worlds of interactive fiction and art to match and exceed other mediums, we need to give the developers the freedom to put themselves into their work without fear, and to do that we need to treat the medium and its creators with the same respect we want for ourselves and learn to tell the difference between our own problems and somebody else’s.
Criticism is fine, but it needs to be warranted and “keep your politics out of my game” is not a valid criticism or request any more than “stop liking things I don’t like” is. We all have our own preferences and the right and ability to indulge them, but we have neither the right nor ability to alter anybody else’s preferences and we need to recognize that and learn the difference between actually saying something and just making noise. And lately, gamers haven’t been saying much but they’ve been making a lot of noise.
Video games are fun for everyone, all sorts of people like to play them, and it’s a natural progression that as the means to create deeper worlds and characters would bring, you know, more depth. That means more nuanced ideas, more diverse characters, and more stretching of boundaries of all sorts.
If you’re going to let a little thing like traditional gender roles from the 1950’s hold back your enjoyment of gaming, then I wonder what kind of gamer you are. Getting past obstacles is our stock and trade, and as far as dilemmas go getting over fictional representations of transgenderism in fantasy worlds in order to enjoy a video game is no Dark Souls or Battletoads. When one approach doesn’t work, we try another and another until we find one that does, and this nonsense simply is not working. So let’s get past this level and move on to the next, yeah?